Chorale: Sanctify us by thy goodness
Movement 5: Ertödt' uns durch dein' Güte
Many of the transcriptions are quite thickly scored, with octave doublings at the extremes of the keyboard and with chords of four or five notes in each hand, all held together with generous pedalling. But even in these instances, clarity is never sacrificed for a love of bold sonority. (It is worth noting that by the time of his Bach transcriptions he had orchestrated a number of his own original compositions and performed some of his own Wagner transcriptions, as well as ones by Liszt and Brassin.) Admittedly, in the movements from cantatas Nos 94 and 99 and the chorale—Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn—from Cantata No 4, the always effective piano-writing offers an alternative view to the transparency of Bach’s conceptions; and, in the first two instances, it demands less lively tempos than a conductor might prefer. Rummel was careful to point out in his prefaces that his transcriptions were always ‘in accordance’ with the Bach-Gesellschaft edition, and that ‘no item not inherent in the tonal and rhythmic structure of the original has been added in these adaptations except when specially noted’. Though purists may be alarmed by his extreme use of octave doubling in the overture to Cantata No 146 (an early version of the D minor keyboard concerto), they must surely admire his simple, thin scoring of the aria from Cantata No 94 (Die Welt ist wie ein Rauch und Schatten) and the duet from Cantata No 78 (Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten), which could not be more apt or more lovely. His sense of good keyboard-writing is evident whenever he places a strong chorale melody in the middle range of the keyboard, where it carries as well as a chorus might above an orchestra. Equally telling is his unusual fondness for the piano’s highest register, as in the bell-like sonorities for Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her and the selections from cantatas Nos 127 and 129. Pedal indications are given sparingly, usually for special effects, including flutter pedal and pedalled staccatos. He occasionally provided fingering, especially for double notes, and sometimes gave technical suggestions in his prefaces and footnotes (advising, for example, that the cembalo obbligato from Cantata No 203 could be practised with the left hand rewritten as an inversion of the right hand, thus allowing the same fingers in each hand to be exercised simultaneously).
Only three of Rummel’s transcriptions of chorale preludes have survived (he made an additional four, which he is known to have performed: Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich; Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod; In dulci jubilo; and Ich ruf’ zu dir). It is instructive to compare his version of Das alte Jahr vergangen ist with Bach’s original and Tausig’s chaste transcription. During the brief twelve bars, Rummel adds the indication tristamente to his tempo marking of Adagio and includes numerous octave doublings (including the lowest note on the piano), phrase marks, three sets of crescendo/decrescendo indications, a change to a B natural at the end of bar 7, and the omission of Bach’s final trill. Yet here, as in his vocal and orchestral transcriptions, little seems out of place or more than the ‘translation’ that a piano transcription must be.
Perhaps Rummel’s finest transcription is the one that gave him the most trouble, Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen. According to his preface, he experimented for three months before deciding on the final version, which is a masterful tone poem in which Bach’s sublime melody is ‘orchestrated’ in different ranges and continuously surrounded by gentle arpeggiations that are held by the pedal, the whole providing an ideal piano reproduction of the sustained sound of the original string-writing. In Rummel’s words, the arpeggios ‘vivify the tone-vibrations otherwise too short-lived on an instrument like the piano’. Time seems to stand still during these twelve minutes of musical devotion, a masterpiece equal to Bach’s original and unique in the repertoire of Bach transcriptions.
Rummel’s pianism, like Busoni’s, was praised for its colourism, expressive freedom, wide dynamic range, and interpretative depth. We hear these qualities in the few recordings they left us and we perceive them equally well in the rich legacy of their Bach transcriptions.
from notes by Charles Timbrell © 2006